PlantFactory Enhanced for 3D Plant Creation

e-on Software is best known for its Vue range of solutions for the creation, animation and rendering of natural 3D environments. But it also produces a number of specialized graphics authoring products, amongst which is PlantFactory, dedicated to plant modeling and rendering. In this it challenges market leader Xfrog, which supplies both its namesake procedural organic 3D modeler and the XfrogPlants library.

The PlantFactory 3D vegetation modeling, animation and rendering package begins with the ambitious objective of operating across all CG platforms, including real-time, streaming and offline rendering systems. Based on the need to deliver botanically accurate plant appearances and behaviors, it employs a building-block approach to provide users with the ability to create plants of any shape, appearance or behavior. It extends this by employing e-on's EcoSystems technology to generate landscapes containing millions of plants.

The application can be used to create anything from grass to complex trees, either by just painting existing models, assembling them from building blocks or completely graphing all plant properties, with the ability to generate procedural geometry and materials of unlimited detail. Wind and breeze algorithms can be tapped to animate plants and work can be exported as stills or animations in various file formats, such as AVI, Mpeg1, Mpeg2, MOV or BMP, PICT, JPG, GIF, IFF, PCX, PNG, PSD, TGA or TIFF for stills. Support for OBJ, 3DS and animated FBX is also included.

The program can export plant variations as presets, which saves resources and lowers file size, as well as to LumenRT format. Included is the PlantFactory Exporter, providing unlimited resolution and full parametric control. All this export functionality is significant, since the EULA allows selling or distributing static plant models created with PlantFactory. Also notable are optimizations for the rendering of indirect lighting, especially for vegetation using billboards, and the synchronization of plant collections with the Cornucopia3D PlantFactory Nursery, which is said to make possible direct access to hundreds of plant species directly from within the application interface.

Also noteworthy is the ability to generate plant geometry as quads; merge branch geometry using subdivision surfaces; and employ double-sided materials, handy for such things as the front and back of leaves. Trunk, Branch, Twig, Stem, Leaf and Billboard framework nodes help users quickly get up to speed. Similarly, a Basic Material Editor offers standard channels for diffuse, alpha, normals and detail maps. Animation capabilities include an ultra-realistic wind animation model; standardized wind animation for both real-time and offline rendering; and an optimnized "Leaf" node to easily add animated leaves to plants

New in PlantFactory 2016 is Growth Simulation, which is said to allow users to easily generate geometry by employing a biologically-inspired growth simulation, via such parameters as growth, duration, shadow sensitivity and apical development. Users can also add more realism to scenes by tapping the power of Preset Variations, which makes it possible to include subtle differences in plant presets, such as changing the number of buds on a blooming flower or its petal colors. It's now also possible to control the amount of detail in a plant model, with a choice of three configuration approaches.

It all sounds good but what does it cost? That's where things get complicated, since PlantFactory is available in no less than four versions, ranging from Producer, geared to studios and priced at $1,995, through Studio ($995), Designer ($495) down to Artist, which at $199 is geared to VUE Esprit, Studio or Complete users. There's also the free Exporter, which limits users to purchasing plant assets, tweaking them and exporting them as static images for use in 3D applications. Our pick would be the $495 Designer, which places no limits on the polygon count of exported plants, comes with a good collection of plant species and provides significant flexibility when creating new plants. Thankfully there's a comparative feature chart to make sense of all this.

More information is available on the PlantFactory site, as well as a trial version.